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Gun-Fighters of the Old West 


Gun-Fighters o* the Old West 


Copyright, 1943 
$y E. Haldeman-Julius 

Printed In the United States of America 

The first of the old-time Western outlaws was a shadowy figure 
named Meason, first heard of as a robber on the Ohio River about 1800. 
Meason lived in a cavern known as Rock Cave, in the bank of the Ohio 
River about 20 miles below the mouth of the Wabash. The cave was 
a two-storied affair, an admirable retreat for Meason and his gang 
of river pirates. 

At this period a great many Southern adventurers were crossing 
the Appalachian Mountains and exploring the new states of Kentucky, 
Tennessee and Mississippi, some even wandering down into Louisiana 
and Texas — the region then known as the Far West. There were no 
regular roads or highways, and most travelers came in keel-boats or 
flatboats on the rivers. Others walked or rode horses along the old 
river trails or "traces." These people were frontiersmen of the toughest 
sort, all armed to the teeth and prepared to use their weapons on the 
slightest provocation. But the criminals who preyed upon them were 
tougher still. 

Nobody ever knew just how many men were members of Meason's 
band. It has been said that he often had 100 mounted bandits camping 
/ n in Rock Cave at one time. This is probably an exaggeration, but the 

gang was strong enough to stop big flatboats on the river, murder the 
crews and carry off anything of value that they could find in the 
wreckage. Groups of horsemen were attacked as they camped along 
I the traces. Poor men traveling on foot were ambushed and murdered, 

even though they carried no treasure beyond their firearms and scanty 
camping equipment. 

Meason's murderers prospered for nearly a decade, looted many 
river boats, and murdered several hundred travelers. But finally the 
Ohio country became too populous for Meason's purposes, so he left 
Rock Cave and moved down into the wilds of Mississippi. The Indian 
lands in this region were just being opened up for settlement, and 
Meason and his followers operated very much as they had in the Ohio 
country, robbing and killing newcomers along the famous Natchez-to- 
Nashville trace. The Mississippi authorities offered a large reward for 
Meason's arrest, but the officers were unable to capture him for a long- 
time . Finally two of Meason's lieutenants — some say that one of them 
was Meason's illegitimate son—decided to turn him in and collect the 
. reward. They tried to bind him with a rope, but were unsuccessful. 
In the fight which followed, one of them killed Meason with a hatchet. 

The assassins cut off the leader's head and carried it in a buckskin 

sack to the town of Washington, Miss., where they planned to show the 

. gruesome trophy to the Governor and collect the reward. The local 

authorities, however, recognized the two gunmen and clapped them into 

jail at once. Several weeks later they were duly tried and convictd of 

^ murder, and the sheriff hanged them to a liveoak tree amid general 

rejoicing. The Meason gang never amounted to much after this disaster. 

r-i The members separated and vanished into the wilderness. Some of them 

da united with other bands of marauders, but these groups were nothing 

r-sat all as compared with the original Meason organization. 

The only members of Meason's gang who attained any independent 

, ^notoriety were the Harp brothers, known as Big Harp and Little Harp. 

3 These two ruffians, accompanied^y three or four women, camped near 


many of the pioneer settlements along the Kentucky border. They 
claimed to have come from North Carolina about 1804, but nothing is 
known of them previous to their association with Meason. 

The polish and urbanity that some legends have attributed to tne 
vague character of Meason were altogether foreign to the Harp brothers. 
They were filthy, savage beasts, ignorant as dogs and probably mental 
defectives. Their women were coarse and brutal, one of them tepoie- 
minded. Both men and women, according to the chroniclers of the 
time, "devoted all their leisure time to. riot, drunkenness and de- 
baucherv " 

The authorities arrested the whole Harp family once, charging them 
with the murder of a young Virginian, the son of Colonel F. E. Langlord. 
The Harps swore they knew nothing of this crime, although Langr ord s 
blood-stained clothing was found in their possession, together with a 
quantity of gold coin such as he was known to have carried. Thrown 
into jail at Danville, Ky., the Harps escaped and fled to Columbia, 
where they murdered a small boy in order to get -possession of a sacK 
of cornmeal he was carrying. They also tortured a young girl and 
finally killed her with a tomahawk, apparently for no reason at all. 
"They seem inspired with the deadliest hatred against all mankind, 
says a contemporary account, "and such is their implacable misanthropy 
that they are known to kill when there is no temptation to rob. 

Once the two Harp brothers rode up to the cabin of William Staggle, 
who was away from home. Mrs. Staggle was there, however, with four 
young children. The Harps posed as Methodist preachers, and it is 
supposed that Mrs. Staggle invited them into the house. When William 
Staggle returned a day or two later, he found the cabm burned to the 
ground and the bodies of his wife and children in the ashes. It appeared 
that they had been killed with an axe or tomahawk, as each skull was 

SP * Staggle got his best friend, a Captain Leeper, to go with him in 
pursuit of the Harps. Little Harp escaped them, but Captain Leeper 
shot Big Harp off his horse, and the fall somehow broke his leg. Harp 
was not mortally hurt, but was helpless by reason of the broken leg, 
and Leeper had disarmed him, except for a small Derringer pistol 
hidden in his boot. Harp begged Leeper not to kill him, and Leeper was 
inclined to turn him over to the authorities for trial. But as soon as 
Staggle rode up and saw Harp he shot the bandit through the neck, 
before he could draw the pistol which he had concealed from Leeper. 
The two of them cut off Harp's head and stuck it on the end of a pole. 
Then they rode from cabin to cabin for several days, showing the bloody 
trophy to the settlers. Tiring of this, they set the pole up near a ford, 
at a place which was known as Harp's Head for many years thereafter. 
Little Harp was hanged several years later, by a sheriff's posse some- 
where in Mississippi. 


The first really big-time criminal of this period was the famous 
John A Murrell, who showed up in eastern Arkansas about 1830. 
Surprisingly little is known about Murrell, although he is remembered 
even today in certain quarters, and children are still frightened by 
"Murrell stories" in some parts of the rural South. He began as a 
common horse-thief with about a dozen followers, but soon began to 
steal Negro slaves as well, and devoted his spare moments to highway 
robbery which often involved murder. Several of Murrell's men were 
expert counterfeiters, and all the gang passed bogus money when the 
opportunity presented itself. , 

In a few years Murrell built up an association of more than 2,000 
men scattered over Missouri; Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and 
Louisiana. Some of these were men of position and influence, the 
scions of rich and prominent families. Many of them worked with 


Murrell's gang for years without ever having seen their chief. A number 
of prominent Southerners, long afterward, confessed on their deathbeds 
that they had once been members of Murrell's secret fraternity. 

Murrell was one of the most thorough-going scoundrels -who ever 
lived, but he was not an ignorant brutal ruffian like the Harp brothers. 
Alexander Hynds, of Tennessee, had this to say of his character "Nature 
had done much for Murrell. He had a quick mind, a fine natural address 
and great adaptibility. He was as much at ease among the refined and 
cultured as with his own gang. He made a special study of criminal 
law, and knew something of medicine. He often palmed himself off 
as a preacher, and preached- in large camp-meetings, and some were 
converted under his ministry! .He often used his clerical garb in passing 
counterfeit money. With a clear head, cool, fine judgment, and a nature 
utterly without fear, moral or physical, his power over his men never 
waned. To them he was just, fair and amiable. He took great pride in his 
position and the operations of his gang. This conceit was the only weak 
spot in his nature, and led to his downfall." 

Several books and many stories have been written about the Mur- 
rell gang, but the most sensational account was a book called Life and 
Adventures of Virgil A. Stewart, published by Harpers, New York, in 1836. 
Stewart was a Mississippi detective who usually called himself Hughes — 
a vain, boastful fellow whose statements must always be taken with a 
grain of salt. However, it was stewart and- his book that finally over- 
threw the great Murrell, and broke up the most powerful association of 
criminals ever assembled in America up to that time. 

Stewart had joined Murrell's band, and became so intimately 
acquainted with the outlaw that the latter recounted a great many 
facts about his early life. "I was born in middle Tennessee," said Murrell. 
"My parents had not much property, but they were intelligent people. 
My father was an honest man, I expect, and tried to raise me honest, 
but I think none the better of him for that. My mother was the pure grit, 
and she learned all her children to steal as soon as we could walk. At 
ten years old I was not a bad hand. The first good haul I made was 
from a peddler who lodged at my father's house one night." 

Later on, while traveling through the country with a ruffian named 
Crenshaw, young Murrell got into a tight place. "We stole a Negro man," 
he said, "and pushed for Mississippi. We had promised him that we 
would conduct him to a free state if he would let us sell him once on 
our way, and we also agreed to give him part of the money. We sold 
him for $600, but when we went to start the Negro seemed to be very 
uneasy, and appeared to doubt our coming back for him as we had 
promised." Murrell and Crenshaw came back for him, all right, and 
started on their way, only to learn that the owner was advertising for 
the Negro, and publishing descriptions of the two outlaws who had 
stolen him. The danger now was that the Negro would be recaptured, 
and would squeal on Murrell and Crenshaw. "It was rather squally 
times," said Murrell in relating the incident to Stewart, "so we took the 
Negro out to the bank of a creek, and Crenshaw shot him through the 
head. We took out his entrails and sunk him in the creek." 

,On another occasion Murrell and his brother stole five Negroes — 
a man and woman, and their three Sons. "We promised them that, if 
they would work for us one year after we got to Texas, we would let 
them go free, and we told them many fine stories. The old Negro became 
suspicious that we were going to sell him, and grew quite contrary. 
So we landed one day by the side of an island, and I requested him to 
go with me round the point to catch some fish. Once away from our 
company, I shot him through the head, then ripped open his belly and 
tumbled him into the river. We told the others that the Negro had 
fallen into the water, and that he never came up after he went under. 
We sold our Negroes to a Frenchman for $1900, fifty miles above New 

"Later on," continues the Murrell narrative, "I dacoyed a Negro from 


his master in middle Tennessee, and sent him to Mills Point by a young 
man while I waited to see the movements of the owner. He thought 
his Negro had run off, so I started to take possession of my prize. 
I got another friend at Mills Point to take the Negro in a skiff, 
and convey him to the mouth of Red River, while I took passage on a 
steamboat. I then went through the country by land, and sold my Negro 
for $900, and the second night after I stole him again, and my friend 
ran him to the Irish Bayou in Texas. I then followed on after him, 
and sold my Negro in Texas for $500." 

Murrell's men were generally known as "speculators" or road 
agents"— note the use of the former term in the following passage. 
"As I was riding along, planning for my designs, I was overtaken by a 
tall and good-looking young man, riding an elegant horse, which was 
splendidly rigged out. The young gentleman's apparel was of the gayest 
that could be had, and his watch-chain and other jewelry were of the 
richest and best. He said he had been to the lower country with a 
drove of Negroes, and to hear us talk, we were very rich. I felt him out 
on the subject of speculation, but he cursed the speculators, and said he 
was in a bad condition to fall into the hands of such villians, as he had 
the cash with him that twenty Negroes had sold for, and that he was 
very glad to get in company with me through the Nations. I concluded 
he was a noble prize, and longed to be counting his cash. At length I 
became very thirsty and insisted on turning down a deep hollow that 
headed near the road, to hunt some water. We had followed down the 
dale for about four hundred yards, when I drew my pistol and shot 
him through the head. He fell dead, and I commenced hunting for his 
cash I opened his large pocketbook, which was stuffed very full; and 
when I began to open it I thought it was a treasure indeed. But oh, 
the contents of that book! It was richly filled with the copies of love- 
songs the forms of love-letters, and some of his own composition, but 
no cash. I began to cut off his clothes with my knife, and examine 
them for his money, but I found four dollars and a half in his pockets, 
and no more. And is this the amount for which twenty Negroes sold? 
thought I. I recollected his watch and jewelry, and I gathered them in; 
the chain was rich and good, but it swung to an old brass watch. He was 
a puff for true. All such fools ought to die as soon as possible." 

It was about this time that Murrell, who was a member of several 
fraternal orders, decided to organize his followers into a secret fraternity 
with signs grips, passwords and the like. "I remained at home but a 
short time, as I could not rest when my mind was not engaged in some 
speculation," he told Stewart. 'T commenced the foundation of the 
Mystic Clan, and suggested the plan of exciting a rebellion among the 
Negroes as the sure road to an inexhaustible fortune for all who would 
engage in the expedition. The first mystic sign which is used by this 
clan was in use among robbers before I was born; the second had its 
origin from myself, Phelps, Haines, Cooper, Doris, Bolton, Harris, Dod- 
dridge Kelly, Morris, Walton, Depont and one of my brothers. We needed 
a higher order to carry on our designs, and we adopted our sign, calling 
it the Sign of the Grand Council of the Mystic Clan. We practiced our- 
selves to give and receive the new sign to a fraction before we parted. 
In addition to this improvement, we invented a mode of corresponding 
by means of ten characters, mixed with other matter, which has been 
very convenient on many occasions, and especially when any of us get 

into difficulties." iti ,''■.,■ ^ „., 

The great strength of Murrell's gang lay in its utter ruthlejssness. 
A true Murrell man never forgot that dead men tell no tales, and never 
hesitated to kill anybody who might betray him. "This fellow Phelps," 
Murrell said of a fellow-highwayman, "will never do for a robber, 
because he cannot kill a man unless he has received an injury from 
him first. He is now in jail at Vicksburg, and I fear will hang. He is 
a noble chap among the Negroes, and he wants them all free, and 
knows how to excite them as well as anybody, therefore I should like to 


save him. I went to see him not long ago, at the jail, but he is so 
strictly watched that nothing can be done. He has been in the habit of 
stopping men on the highway, and robbing them, and then letting them 
go free — but that will never do for a speculator. After I rob a man he 
will never give evidence against me. There is but one safe plan in this 
business, and that is to kill. If I could not afford to kill a man, I would 
not rob him." 

Murrell's chief purpose in life was to lead the Negroes in a great 
uprising against the whites. It has been said that some of Murrell's 
men were sincere about this— fanatical abolitionists of the John Brown 
type. It may be so. But the great majority, like Murrell himself, were 
interested only in the loot they expected to get out of it. "The great 
object that we have in contemplation," said Murrell, "is to excite a 
rebellion among the Negroes throughout the slave-holding states. Our 
plan is to manage so as to have it commence everywhere at the same 
hour. We have set on the 25th of December, 1835, for the time to com- 
mence our operations. We design having our companies so stationed 
over the country, in the vicinity of the banks and large cities, that 
when the Negroes commence their carnage and slaughter, we will 
have detachments to fire the towns and rob the banks while all is 
confusion and dismay. The rebellion taking place everywhere at once, 
every part of the country will be engaged in its own defense; and one 
part of the country can afford no relief to another, until many places 
will be entirely overrun by the Negroes, and our pockets replenished 
from the banks and desks of rich merchants' houses. The Negroes will 
murder thousands, and huddle the remainder into large bodies of 
stationary defense for their own preservation." 

Stewart quotes Murrell at some length about the details of his 
propaganda among the slaves. "We do not go to every Negro we see 
and tell him about the rebellion. We find the most vicious and wickedly 
disposed on large farms, and poison their minds against their masters 
by telling how they are mistreated. When we are convinced that we 
have found a blood-thirsty devil, we swear him to secrecy and disclose 
to him the secret. We convince him that every other state and section 
of the country where there are any Negroes will rebel and slay all the 
whites they can on the night of Dec. 25th, 1835, and assure him that 
there are thousands of white men engaged in trying to free them, who 
will die by their sides in battle. We have ,a long ceremony for the oath, 
which is administered in the presence of a terrific picture painted for 
that purpose. This picture is highly calculated to make a Negro true to 
his- trust, for he is disposed to be superstitious at best." 

Murrell seems never to have doubted the success of his slave rebel- 
lion. "This may seem too bold," he said when speaking of the plan to 
Stewart, "but that is what I glory in. All the crimes I have ever com- 
mitted have been of the most daring, and I have been successful in all 
my attempts as yet. I am confident that I will be victorious in this 
matter also. I will have the pleasure and honor of knowing that by my 
management I have glutted the earth with more human gore, and 
destroyed more property, than any other robber who ever lived in 
America, or the known world. I look upon the American people as 
my common enemy. My Clan is strong, brave and experienced, and 
is increasing every day. I should not be surprised if we were more than 
2000 strong on the 25th day of December, 1835. In addition to this, I 
have the advantage over any other leader of banditti that has ever 
preceded me, for at least one half of my Grand Council are men of 
high standing, and many of them in honorable and lucrative offices." 

Stewart finally exposed the great conspiracy to the authorities, and 
Murrell was captured and sent to the Mississippi penitentiary in 1834, 
where he was forced to work in the prison blacksmith shop. It developed 
that instead of the 2000 white leaders for the slave rebellion, only about 
450 were really prepared for active service, and many of these fled the 
country when they heard of Murrell's capture. Nothing out of the 


ordinary happened on Dec. 25, 1835, but shortly afterward a few 
Murrell men started a riot at Vicksburg, Miss., where they murdered 
two prominent citizens. Five of the outlaws were hanged at once, 
several were shot, and others imprisoned. Murrell got out of the peni- 
tentiary in 1841, but his health was broken and his mind clouded, so 
that he was quite harmless. He lived only a few months after his 


After Murrell's time, there was little organized criminal activity 
along the Mississippi for some years; the scene shifted to California, 
where hundreds of outlaws appeared immediately after the discovery, of 
gold there in 1849. In the beginning of the gold-rush period there 
were no peace officers in the mining camps. Each Californian carried 
'firearms at all times, and protected his person and property as best he 
could. Naturally these men soon formed cooperative groups and frater- 
nal associations, and there was trouble whenever the interests of these 
organizations conflicted. 

It appears that the first elected officers were nearly all criminals, 
and these were opposed by other outlaws who called themselves Vig- 
ilantes, also known as "stranglers" because of their custom of hanging 
people who opposed them. Some Californians even today regard the 
Vigilantes as heroes and saviors of the country. That there were many 
brutal robbers and murderers among them cannot be denied, since the 
Vigilantes themselves held periodic "purges" when they executed many 
of these scoundrels, whom they always called "false members." It is 
doubtless true also that other ruffians, who did not belong to the 
Vigilantes, committed crimes which were attributed to that organization. 

At one period there were nearly 5000 Vigilantes in San Francisco 
alone, besides thousands of members and fellow-travelers in the smaller 
camps. These outlaws built fortified arsenals, seized firearms and can- 
non belonging to the militia, laughed at the territorial governor's orders, 
and even defied the United States government. They not only fought 
the city, territorial and federal authorities, but carried on long wars 
with rival bands of criminals and outlaws. Besides all this, they took 
upon themselves the punishment of criminals, claiming that the duly 
constituted authorities had refused to do their duty in this regard. 
They hanged men for breaking into houses, for stealing groceries, for 
arson, and for horse stealing. They hanged some murderers also, but 
only in cases where the murdered man was unarmed or was killed in 
some particularly atrocious manner. The survivor of a gun -fight in 
which both parties were armed, and the loser fell with a weapon in 
his hand, was not regarded as a murderer at all, and was seldom 
arrested or tried. 

In 1855 three men were sentenced to death by the authorities in 
Los Angeles, but the Supreme Court decided that two of them should 
not hang. Upon this the mayor of Los Angeles resigned in a towering 
rage, and openly joined the outlaw Vigilantes who broke into the jail 
and hanged the prisoners anyhow. 

In San Francisco one Charles Cora killed a United States Marshal 
named Richardson. Also one Jim Casey murdered James King, editor 
of the San Francisco Bulletin, Charles Cora and Casey were lodged in 
jail, under the protection of armed officers of the law. But twenty-four 
companies of Vigilantes suddenly appeared in the streets, carrying rifles 
and marching in military order. Led by several preachers who had 
turned outlaw, they dragged a cannon up to the jail, and forced the 
authorities to surrender Cora and Casey, who were hanged in front 
of the Vigilante Headquarters a little later. 

The Vigilantes next began to arrest and try men for illegal voting, 
©lection frauds and the like, despite the fact that they had no legal 




authority to arrest or try anybody. A pugilist known as Billy 'Mulligan 
was confined in the Vigilante Jail, charged .with stuffing ballot-boxes. 
A judge of the California Supreme Court issued a writ of haUeus corpus, 
but the Vigilantes laughed at the officer who came to serve i the writ 
They set up six cannon on front of the building, filled the whole place 
with armed men, and defied the Supreme Court. The governor of 
California ordered them to disband and disperse, threatening them 
with the militia. Their answer was to steal two shiploads of arms ana 
ammunition, the property of the federal government. Governor John- 
son then appealed to the President of the United States to send battle- 
ships against the outlaws, but Washington and California were a long 
way apart in those days, and nothing ever came of it. 

It was about this time that a Vigilante named Hopkins made an 
insulting remark to Judge Terry, of the California Supreme Court, 
and the judge impulsively stabbed him in the throat with a bowie knife. 
Judge Terry knew better than to expect any real protection from the 
nolice so he fled to the camp of a rival gang of outlaws, who called 
themselves the "Law and Order Men." The Vigilantes stormed^the 
camp and captured the fugitive, and if Hopkins had died, as everybody 
expected, they would certainly have hanged Judge Terry. Hopkins 
finally got well, and Judge Terry was allowed to go back to the supreme 
bench, after several weeks of illegal confinement m the Vigilante Jail. 

In 1856 for reasons not quite clear today, the Vigilantes suddenly 
decided to disband. On August 18th, according to Emerson Hough, they 
"marched openly in review through the streets of the city, five thousand 
one hundred and thirty-seven men in line, with three companies of artil- 
lerv eighteen cannon, a company of dragoons, and a medical stall ot 
forty-odd physicians. After the parade the men halted, the assemblage 
broke up into companies, the companies into groups; and thus quietly, 
with no vaunting of themselves and no concealment of their acts, there 
passed away one of the most singular and significant organizations of 
American citizens ever known." 

The last act of the Vigilantes was the distribution of a printed 
statement defending their activities, even to the treasons, murders and 
robberies which many of the members had admitted. This published 
defense ended with a threat that, if the occasion demanded it, they 
would reorganize and take over the city and state government again! 
A great deal has been written for and against the Vigilante outlaws, 
but there is no question that this parting threat had a potent influence 
in California politics for many years after the organization disbanded. 


One of the most notorious of the early Western gunfighters was 
Henry Plummer the outlaw sheriff who terrorized the goldfields In the 
60 's Plummer was a New Englander, and it is said that he was born 
of a good Connecticut family in 1837. A dark, slender, quiet young man, 
there was nothing of the traditional desperado in his appearance. He 
was well educated, and spoke good English, in a manner sometimes 
regarded as "sissy" on the frontier. But nobody laughed at Plummer s 
mincing speech, because he was the best pistol-shot in the Idahp Terri- 
tory, and had killed many men in duels and street fights. 

When Plummer first appeared in Lewiston, Idaho, he was merely a 
gambler but was soon led into serious crime. It was at Lewiston that 
he began to organize his gang, which grew in time to be the most 
desperate band of robbers and murderers in that whole region. Masked 
robbers began by stopping gold shipments on the trails from the mines, 
but Plummer stayed behind his respectable faro layout in town, and 
nobody suspected that he was connected with the road-agents. He was 
a prominent member of the local Vigilantes, and made violent speeches 
advocating the suppression of the outlaw element. 



.fcmally Plummer's band of robbers became so large that it out- 
numbered the honest people nearly two to one. Pack trains and stages 
were stopped by such large bodies of armed men that resistance was 
useless. In some camps the robbers just took over all property without 
*i n i y disguise at all, and anybody who objected was shot down at once. 
AH this time Plummer was plotting with the enemies of the robber 
gang, and nobody suspected him. He was known as a gambler and a 
killer, but his gambling was apparently honest and his killings seemed 
to be open and above-board. By reason of his skill with the six- 
shooter he rid the country of several desperadoes who had bullied 
citizens and frightened people in the streets. These combats were 
regarded as duels, and were not at all to Plummer's discredit. 

Plummer played the game this way at five or six camps in the 
Idaho Territory, which then included most of Montana, and finally 
settled down in Bannack, which was a very tough town indeed. After 
Plummer had established himself there, his men followed singly and 
in small groups, and gradually absorbed everything just as they had 
done in Lewiston. 

There was one man in Bannack who annoyed the robbers a bit—a 
certain Jack Crawford, who had recently been elected sheriff They 
decided to kill Crawford, and since it was best that this be accomplished 
in a fair fight, with witnesses present, Plummer was chosen to do the 
job. There were many proficient gun-fighters in the band, but none 
so fast and deadly as Plummer. Crawford was a cautious fellow, and 
Plummer was unable to pick a fight with him. Finally Crawford shot 
Plummer at long range with a rifle, and the bullet shattered his right 
wrist. Thereupon Crawford fled the country, and Plummer spent most 
of his time learning to shoot with his left hand. 

Plummer's secret organization had by this time become strong 
enough to control the elections, and shortly after Jack Crawford's flight 
they made Plummer sheriff. At the same time they got control of the 
court which settled mining-claim disputes in the district. Plummer 
appointed members of his gang to serve as deputy sheriffs, and they 
soon 'had the world by the tail on a down-hill pull," as one chronicler 
expressed it. 

The gang had confederates planted everywhere, at mines and ship- 
ping points. Whenever the stage-coach from Virginia City carried a 
large shipment of gold, a Plummer man made a secret mark on the 
harness, which was noted by other gangsters at various points along 
the trail. At a prearranged time the stage was stopped by a large 
company of masked riders, and the gold carried off into the hills As 
soon as Sheriff Plummer was notified he rode out at the head of a 
posse of his deputies, and made a great show of pursuing the robbers. 
What he really did, of course, was to destroy all evidence which might 
lead to their capture. If a passenger on the stage told officers that he 
could identify any of the highwaymen, he was quietly murdered Some 
of these murders were done by the sheriff himself. And even at this 
stage of the game it appears that the honest people in Bannack never 
suspected that Sheriff Plummer was in league with the outlaws 

Finally Plummer himself stuck up a fellow named Tilden, and Tilden 
told a friend in confidence that the masked bandit "looked uncommon 
like Sheriff Plummer." Somebody else recognized George Ives one of 
Plummer's chief deputies, when he robbed the passengers of a stage 
A little later the guards who accompanied a gold shipment fired at 
some bandits and wounded two of them, so that two more of Plummer's 
deputies had to hide out in the hills while their wounds healed The 
murder of a boy named Tiebalt enraged a lot of miners about this time 
and some amateur sleuths raded a building where several deputy sher- 
iffs lived. In this place they found a trunk full Of pistols, and some of 
these weapons were identified as belonging to men who had been killed 
by the robbers, or who had mysteriously disappeared from the camps 

The miners talked these things over privately for several weeks 



and then suddenly the anti-Plummer faction burst out in open revolt. 
Two thousand armed men began milling around Virginia City, where 
they arrested shveral of Plummer's men and held a sort of kangaroo 
trial known as "the miners' court." A fellow called Long John, to save 
his own neck, testified that he had seen George Ives murder young 
Tiebalt. So the miners' court voted to hang George Ives and did so 
immediately, despite the protests of other deputies who shouted that 
the whole thing was illegal, and that every man who assisted at the 
hanging would be prosecuted for murder as soon as Sheriff Plummer 
could be notified. 

Long John, Red Yeager and others confirmed the miners' suspicion 
that Plummer was the chief of the outlaws, and a party of armed men 
took him by surprise, before he had heard about the revolt. They caught 
Plummer in his shirt-sleeves, without his pistols, and hanged him to 
his own scaffold in the jail yard. They hanged about twenty other 
fellows too, most of them deputy sheriffs. These men were tough, 
and they all died game except Plummer himself. The outlaw sheriff lost 
his nerve, wept and prayed, and offered to do anything if only the miners 
wouldn't hang him. 

Before his execution Plummer wrote a letter to his wife back East, 
who knew nothing of his criminal activities. In this letter he told her 
that a "parcel of ruffians" were about to murder him because of his 
patriotism — Plummer was a Union man, while a majority of the miners 
were Confederate sympathizers. For some time after Plummer's death, 
many people believed that he was a victim of persecution, and his 
family regarded him as a hero and a martyr who died trying to enforce 
the law. Plummer's wife came West, interviewed many of the miners, 
and examined such records as were available. Finally even she became 
convinced that Plummer- was guilty of murder and robbery, and that 
his execution was justified. 


One Western "bad man" who had a great reputation, written up at 
length by Mark Twain and a host of lesser chroniclers, was Joseph A. 
Slade. The legend persists to this day, but the truth is that Slade was 
not really a desperado at all.' 

Slade came originally from Illinois, and after serving in the Mexican 
War he wandered West and got a job with the Overland Stage Company. 
He was quiet and well-behaved when sober, but often became abusive 
after taking a few drinks. He fell into the habit of raising disturb- 
ances in bars and bawdy-houses, threatening the respectable customers, 
and firing his pistol aimlessly about in the streets. Only the fact that 
many people admitted a sheepish liking for the man saved him from 
being shot down long before his newspaper notoriety was achieved. 
"Slade was a likeable feller, when he was sober," said one of the men 
who hanged him. 

It was generally reported that Slade had killed more than fifty 
men, as many as six in one evening, but the truth is that he killed only 
one man in the whole course of his career. The man he killed was a 
big French horse -thief known as Jules Reni. Jules threatened Slade's 
life many times, and one day he fired at Slade twice with a shotgun. 
As Slade lay on the ground he heard Jules telling somebody to bury him. 
Slade was bleeding from thirteen buckshot wounds, but he muttered 
that he would get up presently and cut Jules' ears off. Jules approached 
the wounded man, but it seemed obvious that Slade was dying, so the 
Frenchman just shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Some frontier 
officers arrested Jules, but released him when he promised to leave 
the country. 

When Slade recovered from his injuries he learned that Jules was 
still in the vicinity, that he had defied the officers, and that he threat- 

ened to "finish the job" the next time he encountered Slade. Some of 
Slade's men captured Jules and brought him in. The moment Slade 
caught sight of the unarmed prisoner, he fired, the bullet striking Jules 
in the mouth- Jules fell to the ground, and began to shout that he 
wanted to make a will. A man hurried into the house to bring pen and 
ink, but while in the house he heard another shot, and came out to 
find that Slade had shot Jules through the head, killing him instantly. 

This is the sorry tale of what really happened that day, but the 
Slade legend grew by leaps and bounds. The story was that Slade 
had hunted Jules down relentlessly on foot, marched him forty miles 
across the desert, and tied him up to a post in the Slade dooryard. Then 
he stood back at a distance of fifteen measured yards and began shoot- 
ing at Jules with his revolver, clipping off an ear, part of a foot, a knee-- 
cap and so on, always calling his shots before he fired. After an hour- 
or so of this amusment Slade grew weary, and finished off the poor 
Frenchman with a merciful bullet through the head. This done, the 
story relates that Slade cut off one of the dead man's ears, dried and 
varnished it, and wore it as a watch-charm. There were plenty of 
old-timers, many years later, who swore that they had actually seen 
Slade strutting about with Jules' ear swinging on his watch-chain! 

Slade was not punished for the cowardly murder of Jules, because 
Jules had been a thief and a bully, and most of the citizens were glad 
to get rid of him. But the "bad man" legend was the cause of Slade's 
downfall. He began to strut and snarl and frighten travelers, thus 
becoming so unpopular that he lost his job with the Overland company. 
Several years later, at Alder Gulch, he became such a nuisance that 
the miners' court decided to hang him on general principles! "My God! 
My God! Must I die?" cried the make-believe bad man. "My God, men, 
you surely don't mean to hang me! Oh, my poor wife!" It is said that 
some of Slade's executioners were moved to tears by his lamentations, 
but they went right ahead and hanged him just the same. 

Slade's wife rode into town as soon as she heard of the hanging. 
She cursed the miners' court, crying that poor Slade had never done 
anything worse than drink too much, and boast of his imaginary kill- 
ings. Besides, she said, if they were set on killing him, he should have 
been shot — hanging is a disgraceful death. She took Slade's body home 
and preserved it in alcohol, refusing to have it buried with other out- 
laws in the local graveyard. A year or two later she shipped the pickled 
corpse down to Salt Lake City, where it was interred in a Mormon 


The desperadoes treated so far in this book were associated mainly 
with the Mississippi River traffic and the goldfields, but the most 
glamorous gun-fighters of all were those who lived and died in the cattle 
country. Many of these fellows were notorious enough to find their way 
into the history-books, but the prize example of them all is Wild Bill 
Hickok. One of the best pistol shots that ever lived, Wild Bill killed 
more men in single combat than any other American. Most of these 
affrays occurred in public places, often in the full sight of large crowds. 
The killings attributed to Wild Bill Hickok, unlike those of Slade and 
other newspaper bad men, are as well authenticated as any other 
incidents of the period. 

Wild Bill's real name was James Butler Hickok, and he was born 
on an Illinois farm in 1837. He came to Kansas before the Civil War, 
and was somehow involved with the border outlaws who rode with the 
notorious Jim Lane. Hickok served in eastern Kansas as a constable 
at the age of 19, and was already known as an unusually good shot 
with the revolver. Later he became a guard for the Overland stage- 
coach outfit, supposed to protect the passengers and company property 
from Indians and other marauders. 


Bill was a tall, slender chap then, with blue eyes and long yellow 
hair. He was quiet, and despite his reputation as an expert shot, the 
hard cases of the West were inclined to underestimate him, until his 
great battle with the McCandles gang in 1861. He was guarding the 
Overland horse-herd at Rock Creek, not far from Topeka, when the 
station was attacked by a gang of outlaws. When he saw that there 
were ten of these fellows, led by the notorious McCandles brothers, 
Bill fled into his little sod shanty and barred the door. After some 
shouted insults, the outlaws found a piece of timber and battered their 
way into the dugout. 

When the door, crashed, Bill had a single-shot rifle in his hands, 
and with this he killed Jim McCandles, the first to appear in the door- 
way. The others rushed in immediately, and Bill shot down three of 
them with a revolver, and stabbed several others. By this time Bill 
had been shot four times and stabbed twice, and he was never very 
clear about what happened after that. "I knew I was all cut and shot 
to pieces," he said later. "I just got sort of wild." When he came to 
himself, six of the outlays lay dead, and four were trying to get away. 
Bill picked up a rifle, staggered to the door, and killed one of these 
fellows just as he was scrambling into the saddle. A moment later 
Bill shot another one, and wounded him so badly that he died the 
next day. s 

It is quite a thing for one man to whip ten gun-fighters, and kill 
eight of them, all in the space of four or five minutes. Many Westerners 
regarded Bill Hickok's defeat of the-McCandles gang as a sort of minor 
miracle, and one newspaper writer compared the fight to the battle 
of Hastings and the fall of Troy. Even the conservative Emerson Hough 
described it as "the greatest fight of any one man against odds at 
close range that is mentioned in any history of any part of the world!" 

Bill Hickok thought himself mortally wounded, and most of his 
friends thought so, too, but he recovered after nearly a year of frontier 
"doctoring." He was through with the Overland Stage job, however, and 
went to work as a civilian teamster for the Union Army in 1862. His 
wagon-train was captured by the Confederates, but Bill escaped after 
killing four of the enemy. Later on, still a civilian, he became a sharp- 
shooter and is said to have killed thirty- five men at the battle of 
Elkhorn Tavern. Some writers have asserted that it was Bill Hickok who 
picked off General McCullough at Pea Ridge, but there is no evidence 
that Bill himself ever made this claim. 

Next he served as a spy in Missouri and Arkansas, even enlisting in 
the Confederate Army in order to get information, serving under Gen- 
eral Kirby Smith and also with General. Sterling Price. Finally Bill 
was recognized and about to be shot as a spy, but managed to kill his 
guard and escape. It was a narrow squeeze, however, and Bill Hickok 
gave up spying for good. He refused to enlist, but followed along with 
Federal troops in Missouri, serving as a volunteer scout under General 
Davis. Emerson Hough tells us that during this period "he rode out on 
his own hook, and was stopped by three men who ordered him to halt 
and dismount. All three had their hands on their revolvers; but, to 
show the difference between average men and a specialist, Bill killed 
two of them and fatally wounded the other before they could get into 

When the War was over, Bill Hickok was 28 years old, and was said 
to have killed about seventy men, not counting Indians. Perhaps fifty 
of these were Confederate soldiers that Bill shot with a rifle during 
the War; the others were killed in personal combat, nearly all of them 
with the revolver and the bowie-knife. Bill had been wounded many 
times. From head to foot he was covered with knife scars and bullet- 

A strikingly handsome man, he wore his yellow hair very long, 
preferred the flashy clothes affected by frontier gamblers, and "walked 
like a tiger," as one of his contemporaries remarked. He was very quiet, 




but was justly regarded as quick-tempered and dangerous. He had come 
to regard himself as a professional gun-fighter now, and was always 
on the alert. He realized that there were plenty of Western bravos 
who would like to kill him, just for the sake of the reputation this act 
would assure the man who beat the celebrated Wild Bill Hickok to the 

When Bill wandered into Springfield, Mo., shortly after the war, 
he attracted no particular attention. The people in Springfield had 
seen' many long-haired gentlemen with ready six-shooters. Bill spent 
most of his time gambling, but some say he served for a short period 
as a peace officer in Springfield. 

It was in Springfield that he killed a gambler, one Dave Tutt. The 
old-timers in Springfield were all agreed that Tutt was killed in a fair 
fight, and that Bill shot him with a revolver from the opposite side 
of the public square, in full daylight. But they are not agreed about 
what caused the shooting. Some say that Dave Tutt had laughed at 
Bill's loud clothes, others think that the two had quarreled over the 
ownership of a silver watch. There were, a few years ago, old men in 
Springfield who could tell you all about it, and point out the exact 
spot where Bill stood when he fired the fatal shot. But these accounts 
do not agree in many important particulars, and we shall probably 
never know the whole truth about the Tutt-Hickok trouble. 

After this difficulty in Springfield, Bill went to Nebraska, where 
four gunmen attacked him in a saloon. Bill killed three of them and 
badly wounded the fourth, but was shot twice in the right shoulder. 
While recuperating from these wounds he wandered out to Hays City, 
Kansas — one of the toughest cow-towns in the whole West. There were 
only about 2000 permanent residents in Hays City, but they had more 
than 100 gambling-hells and whore-houses, with bars and dance-halls 
everywhere. Cattlemen from all over the territory rode into Hays City 
to spend their money and blow off steam. In this process they had shot 
so many town marshals that nobody could be found to serve in this 
capacity. Wild Bill Hickok was offered the job and he took over at 
once, killing two of the local bad men before a week was out. 

This was the most dangerous situation Bill had ever been in so far, 
and he took such precautions as appeared advisable. An old man in 
Hays City described Bill's method of patrolling the . town at night. 
According to this informant, it was Bill's custom to walk down the 
middle of the street, with a sawed-off shotgun held ready in both hands, 
both barrels cocked. He carried a big Colts six-shooter in his holster, 
a Williamson .41 derringer in his pocket, and a razor-edged bowie knife 
stuck in a red sash which he tied round his middle. 

Despite these precautions, Bill was ambushed by a group of drunken 
soldiers from Fort Hays, who shot him seven times. Bill killed three 
soldiers and wounded several more; he was left lying in the street, 
as his assailants thought he was dying. Some friends concealed him for 
several weeks, while soldiers under General Phillip Sheridan made a 
house-to-house search for him in Hays City. Had Bill been caught 
then, it is likely that his career would have ended abruptly. It was very 
bad luck to go about killing soldiers in those days. As soon as' he was 
able to travel, Bill sneaked out of Hays City in the dead of night, and 
kept very quiet for some time. 

The next we hear of Wild Bill Hickok he was in New York City, 
where somebody had persuaded him to cash in on his growing reputa- 
tion by becoming an actor. Poor Bill did his best, strutting about in 
buckskins and firing blank cartridges. Bill was not a very intelligent 
man, but he had sense enough to realize that play-acting was not his 
dish. After a few weeks he gave up the enterprise and returned to 
Kansas. He did not venture into Hays City this time, but got a job as 
city marshal at Abilene. Abilene was just about as tough a camp as 
Hays City, but there was no army post there. 

Two hours after Bill was sworn/in as marshal a man came tearing 



*F tif, ™ street firing his pistols right and left. When Bill shouted 
fi-L « *£*% fellow paid no attention, except to fire two shots at 

5SJ £«« marshal. The shots missed, but Bill was annoyed and killed 
5Sf SS mst , antl y- A few hours later, as he walked down the street in 
™SiS D-ii ess ' B ? l l saw a man snatch something out of his pants 
E?£ ?& Jill supposed that the fellow was drawing a weapon, and shot 
mm dead. A moment later he identified the corpse as one of his own 
SrvPl 1 I s ' a Jr th ? ob J ect that had flashed from his pocket was only a 
2? i! handkerchief. Bill was much depressed by this accident, but it 
couldnt be helped. His life depended upon the fact that he could 
snoot quicker than other people, and he could not stop to scrutinize 
=^- ass ? llans J?,° closely. Several other unpleasant incidents 
marred his stay at Abilene. Finally, learning that some crooked bankers 
r £ ?S? red a rewa rd of $5000 to any man who could kill him, Wild Bill 

Abilene for parts unknown, and we lose sight of him for some time. 

.There are stories of our hero fighting Indians in the Black Hills 
during this vague period," but the first definite news of Bill Hickok 
came from Deadwood, S. D., in 1876. Bill had no job in Deadwood, but 
picked up a slim living by gambling. One day he was playing poker in 
a saloon when a local bad man named McCall slipped up behind the 
great gun-fighter and shot him through the head. Thus died, at the 
ripe old age of 39, the greatest pistol -shootin' gunman of all time. 

Bill Hickok was a rather stupid man, and a densely ignorant one. 
He could not write an ordinary letter, or keep a diary, or memorize a 
few simple sentences, or even make a list of the men he had killed. 
He was not sufficiently intelligent to be a good poker-player, and his 
boners at this game were laughed at all over the West— just as Sam 
Goldwyns peculiar English furnishes merriment in Hollywood today. 
But he was a splendid fighting machine, having killed more than thirty 
gunmen m fair individual fight, and every one of these men fell with 
k ^f ap i x? m hls hand - Counting Indians and Confederates killed in 
battle, the score must have been well over 100. The fact that Bill was 
never tried for murder or even manslaughter gives one a strange insight 
into the nature of the time and place in which Wild Bill Hickok spent 
his life. ^ 


There was never anything in the West comparable to the blood-feuds 
of the Appalachian region, which often persisted between certain fami- 
lies for generations. Feuds of this sort are characteristic of primitive 
places where large families and clans are settled permanently. They 
did not occur in the West because of the mixed and nomadic nature 
ot its population. The cow-country had plenty of organized fighting 
however, in the so-called cattle wars— no less bloody but of much 
shorter duration than the feuds of the mountaineers back East. These 
troubles were invariably called wars, and were actually regarded as 
such; men enlisted to fight on one side or the other, just as many of 
them had signed up for service in the War Between the States. 

There were many of these little wars, but the most famous was 
the Lincoln County trouble which began in New Mexico in the early 
70s and lasted for nearly a decade.- The history of this conflict has 
always been obscure, and many widely different stories have been told 
in New Mexico. The first connected and* authentic account of the 
Lincoln County War was published by Emerson Hough in 1905, and the 
facts set forth here are taken, in the main, from Hough's narrative. 

At the end of the Civil War parts of Texas were full of unbranded 
cattle, and a big cattleman named John Chisum began to drive great 
herds of them North to market. It was this same John Chisum who 
gave his name to the famous Chisum Trail that the radio cowboys 
are still caterwauling about. . Chisum owned perhaps 80,000 cattle 



himself, and he had papers from hundreds of other ranchers which 
authorized him to pick up their cattle wherever found and market 
them with his own trail herds. Hough says that Chisum "carried a 
tin cylinder, as large as a water-spout, that contained, some said, more 
than a thousand of these powers of attorney." 

Chisum employed a great number of riders, but it was inevitable 
that a good many Chisum steers were stolen in spite of all the herders' 
precautions. The rustlers were mostly small ranchers and nesters who 
had access to various local cattle markets, and many of these men were 
somehow associated with Major L. G. Murphy, a prosperous Lincoln 
County merchant. Murphy sold beef to the government and to the 
Indian agency, and much of this beef was said to have been stolen 
from the vast Chisum herds. In this situation, there was a great deal 
of fighting between Chisum's cowboys and the local cattle-thieves, 
the latter known as "Murphy men." Both factions naturally employed 
gun-fighters to protect their interests, and a great many were killed 
on both sides. 

In 1874 four brothers named Harold settled in Lincoln County, 
and were "staked" by Major Murphy. One evening they rode into town 
and raised a disturbance, so that the local officers tried to arrest 
them. In the fight which followed, Bill Harold was killed. Killed also 
was Deputy Sheriff Gillam, a constable named Martinez, and another 
man known as Dave Warner. From that day forward Jack, Tom and 
Bob Harold made war on the anti-Murphy forces which they thought 
Were responsible for Bill Harold's death. The Harolds were from Texas, 
and they called in other Texans to help them in their enterprises. 
Between fifty and seventy-five men, and two women, were killed as a 
result of the Harold trouble. 

About this time Alexander McSween, a Presbyterian preacher, ap- 
peared in the town of Lincoln. There was no opening for a minister 
in the vicinity, but McSween had once studied law, so he set up as -an 
attorney. He was not very successful at the bar, and soon. went into 
the mercantile business in partnership with J. H. Tunstall, a young 
Englishman who lived on a cattle-ranch near Lincoln. Major Murphy 
did not approve of these new competitors, while McSween claimed that 
Murphy had stolen funds belonging to the county, and should be ridden 
out on a rail. 

There were many legal and financial conflicts between Murphy's 
people and the new firm of McSween & Tunstall, and finally Murphy 
sent the sheriff out to serve an attachment on some of Tunstall's cattle. 
Sheriff Brady took a posse with him, and somehow they killed Tunstall. 
Many people who had no use for Preacher McSween thought very highly 
of young Tunstall, who had never cheated anybody. They regarded 
Tunstall's death as a cold-blooded murder, and it caused many honest 
people to join the McSween faction who would never have done so in 
the ordinary course of events. 

Fighting became general in Lincoln County now, and nobody 
could be tried for any crime, because the circuit judge was so frightened 
that he refused to hold court there at all. A group of McSween gunmen 
killed Sheriff Brady and one of his deputies in the street. From this 
time forward there were two sheriffs in Lincoln County; one George 
W. Feppin, appointed by the governor, and John Copeland, elected 
by the followers of McSween. The McSween outlaws finally fortified 
themselves in the McSween house. Murphy's men, led by Sheriff Peppin, 
fired at every McSween head that showed itself. One of McSween's 
men took a Sharps .50 buffalo-gun and killed a Murphy sentry at a 
distance of 900 yards — a phenomenal shot even for New Mexico. 

A troop of United States cavalry came out from the Fort, but 
refused to interfere unless Sheriff Peppin called for assistance, which 
he refused to do. McSween's wife walked out through a hail of bullets 
and asked the commanding officer to help her husband, but the colonel 



naturally refused to use United States troops to protect outlaws against 
the sheriff who had been duly appointed by the governor. After three 
days of fighting, the sheriff's men succeeded in setting the McSween 
house afire, so that the defenders were forced out. Most of them, includ- 
ing Preacher McSween, were shot to death by the officers. A few of the 
McSween gunmen escaped, and we shall hear more of these later. 

The big battle in Lincoln did not end the war by any means. 
Murphy had died in Santa Fe a few days before the fight, McSween and 
TunstaU were both dead, most of McSween's property was destroyed, 
Murphy had left no^ cash, and John Chisum's connection with the 
McSween estate was* obscure and disputed. The county was full of 
armed desperadoes who had been hired by the two factions, and many 
of them had not been paid. Chisum might pay some of McSween's men, 
but who was to settle with the Murphy gun-fighters? Mrs. McSween 
hired a one-armed lawyer from Las Vegas to help settle matters, but 
one of Murphy's gunmen killed this lawyer when he refused to dance 
in the street. The British legation sent men from Washington to inves- 
tigate Tunstall's death, and demanded cash indemnity from the United 
States Government, which was finally paid. 

One of the Murphy men was arrested for the murder of Mrs. 
McSween's lawyer, but was allowed to escape. President Hayes issued 
a federal proclamation calling upon both factions to "lay down their 
arms." General Lew Wallace, the newly appointed governor of New 
Mexico, tried to investigate some of the murders, but made no progress 
at all. In the end, all of the gunmen escaped — not one was ever pun- 
ished for any of the Lincoln County killings. Emerson Hough concludes 
his account of the trouble by observing ihat "the fighting was so des- 
perate and so prolonged that it came to be held as warfare and not as 
murder." And it is so regarded in Lincoln County to this day. 


One of the McSween gunmen who escaped from the burning house 
in Lincoln, N. M., was William H. Bonney, known throughout the West 
as Billy the Kid. Born in New York City, Billy was brought as a child 
to Coffeyville, Kansas, and later lived at various camps in Colorado 
Arizona and New Mexico. It was at Silver City, New Mexico when he 
was only twelve years old, that the Kid killed his first man. When a 
cowpuncher slapped him in a barroom fight, Billy cut the man's belly 
open with a jack-knife and fled to the Apache reservation in Arizona. 

Billy must have been about sixteen when he went to work for John 
Chisum, the cattle king. He had some sort of a quarrel with Chisum 
and left his employ in 1877. A few months later he appeared in Lincoln 
County and got a job on the ranch owned by J. H. Tunstall. Since 
Tunstall was a partner of Preacher McSween, it is easy to see how Billy 
was drawn into the McSween gang of hired gun-fighters. When Tunstall 
was killed by a Murphy posse in 1873, the Kid joined the other McSween 
gangsters in fighting the Murphy faction, and is said to have killed 
many of them in cold blood. He was present when Sheriff Brady and 
his deputy were shot down in the street at Lincoln, but whether the 
Kid himself did the shooting is not clear. . 

Most of the men who have written about the Kid described him 
as a pleasant, smiling chap; people who saw him for the first time 
were always surprised that such a nice looking young fellow could be 
a professional killer. He was slender, about five feet eight inches in 
height. He had a rather long face, and his front teeth were a bit too 
large. His hair was brown, and his eyes were gray. There is only one 
photograph of Billy the Kid in existence— the only one ever made, so 
far as I know. It shows him standing against a photographer's backdrop, 
with a Winchester in his hand and a six-shooter at his belt. He is not 
smiling in this picture. He looks pretty stupid, but at the same time 






physically alert. Looking at this unretouched photograph, it is hard to 
see how so many people could have regarded him as a pleasant, smiling 
young man. In this picture, he looks like a killer, and that's what he was. 
After he got away from the McSween house in Lincoln County, the 
Kid claimed that the "murderin' preacher" owed him some money, and 
many people thought that he collected this at the point of a pistol from 
John Chisum, who had backed McSween in his fight against the Murphy 
faction. John Chisum was far from being a timid man, but he didn't 
want any trouble with Billy the Kid. They were betting three to one in 
New Mexico that the Kid would kill Chisum, but he did not do so. 
Chisum died of cancer in 1884, at Eureka Springs, Mo. 

If the Kid ever collected his money from Chisum it didn't last long, 
for we soon find him down in the Pecos country leading a gang of 
horse-thieves. Charlie Bowdre was with him, also Doc Skurlock, Tom 
O'Folliard, Jack Middletoh, Dave Rudabaugh, Tom Pickett, Billy Wilson 
and several other tough hombres. This gang killed several men, in the 
course of their horse-stealing expeditions. It is said that they stole 
some of Chisum 's cattle, and shot a number of Chisum riders. The Kid 
killed several desperadoes in private quarrels, too. In 1880 a Texas bad- 
man named Grant announced his intention of killing the Kid, just to 
build up his reputation as a gun-fighter. Witnesses said that Grant 
approached with his pistol drawn, while the Kid's weapon was still In 
his holster. But Billy shot Grant through the head twice, before he 
could fire a shot. 

The Kid's gang was growing in numbers and influence now, 
and they began to behave as if they owned the Pecos country. The Kid 
made a bad mistake when he murdered Jimmy Carlisle, who was a 
very popular young man. Carlisle had been deputized and served with 
a posse, but he walked unarmed into the Kid's stronghold, and" was 
shot down without a chance for his life, 

After Carlisle's death, the forces of law and order began to close 
in on the Kid. Pat Garrett had just been elected sheriff, and Garrett 
was a bad man to tangle with. Another enemy of the Kid's was Frank 
Stewart, an officer employed by an organization of cattlemen. Also it 
seems that the Kid had thoughtlessly murdered a government clerk 
named Bernstein, on a government reservation. This crime brought 
a federal detective, one A. F. Wilde, into the picture. 

Garrett and his posse pursued members of the gang on several 
occasions, and finally Garrett met Tom O'Folliard in the road and shot 
him to death. A few hours later Garrett's men surrounded the rest of 
the gang in a stone ranch -house, and killed Charlie Bowdre as he came 
out of the building, apparently unaware that the officers were anywhere 
about. The others held out for some time, but they had nothing to eat, 
and finally surrendered when Garrett promised to take them directly 
to Santa Fe and to protect them from mob violence on the way. The 
Kid was acquitted of the Bernstein killing, but convicted of the murder 
of Sheriff Brady and sentenced to hang at Lincoln, May 13, 1881. 

The jail at Lincoln was part of the old Murphy store building, and 
the Kid was kept handcuffed all the time until the date set for his 
hanging. He was guarded by two officers — J. W. Bell and Bob Ollinger. 
Bell was a quiet fellow, but Ollinger was a murderous ruffian who stalked 
about in a fringed buckskin shirt, picking his teeth with a twelve-inch 
bowie knife. "Ollinger said publicly that he hoped the Kid would try to 
escape, so that somebody would have a good excuse to kill him. The 
Kid in turn announced that he should certainly kill Ollinger if he 
ever got a chance. Ollinger only laughed, and made sure that the 
outlaw was handcuffed at all times, with heavy irons on his legs as well. 
One evening, about two weeks before the time of the hanging, the 
Kid somehow slipped one hand out of the cuffs. Instantly he struck 
Bell over the head with the iron, and snatched the officer's revolver. 
A moment later he killed Bell, unlocked the door, picked up a sa wed-off 

shotgun, and stepped out on a little balcony overlooking the street. 
Ollinger had gone out for -supper, but came running back when he 
heard the shot that killed Bell. The Kid waited until Ollinger was 
very close, then riddled him with buckshot. Ollinger fell, and the Kid 
fired the second barrel into the prostrate body. Then he walked into 
the street, forced a man to bring him a file, and cut through one leg- 
iron so that he could mount a horse. The Kid had two loaded pistols 
now, and nobody tried to stop him as he rode slowly out of town. 

If the Kid had fled across the Mexican border he could have gotten 
clear away— that's what the. local officers expected him to do. But he 
persisted in hanging around Fort Sumner, in the Pecos valley north 
of Roswell. It is said that he had a sweetheart in that neighborhood. 
Pat Garrett learned of his whereabouts, and slipped into Sumner with 
two deputies. Garrett knew that the Kid would never surrender again, 
and that one or the other would be killed the next time they met. 

Garrett sat in a dark room with one Pete Maxwell, in Maxwell's 
house. It was bright moonlight outside. The Kid came striding along 
in the moonlight, intending to visit Maxwell. Just as he arrived at 
Maxwell's door he saw Garrett's two deputies sitting on a wall some 
distance away. He could not have known that they were officers, or that 
Garrett was in town. But when he saw the men sitting there he called 
out Quien es?"~ "Who is it?" The men made no answer, and the Kid 
backed into the door of Maxwell's house. 

As the Kid came into the house Garrett could see him plainly, but 
the Kid could not see Garrett well enough to recognize him. Neverthe- 
less he must have suspected that something was wrong, because he had 
a self -cocking pistol in his hand. He pointed the weapon toward Gar- 
rett's dim shape in the corner. \ Garrett fired twice, one bullet striking 
the Kid in the heart and killing him instantly. The Kid's gun went 
off as he fell, but the bullet missed Garrett. 

Billy the Kid's friends have compared him to Wild Bill Hickok, 
but the two had little in common beyond their incredible celerity with 
the six-shooter. Hickok may have been involved in some shady business 
occasionally— many good men were, on the frontier at that time— but" 
he was not a professional criminal. Hickok made his living as a team- 
ster, scout, gambler and peace officer. Billy the Kid was a horse-thief, 
a hired gunman, a cold-blooded murderer. As to the number of mur- 
ders credited to the Kid, there are several different stories. Pat Garrett 
testified that, to his knowledge, the Kid had killed eleven men. Some 
of the Kid's associates said that he had killed twenty-one men — one for 
each year of his life. Probably this latter estimate is not far from the 


The saga of the James and Younger boys began in the Kansas- 
: Missouri border warfare of the late 50 's, where both James and Youngers 
serves their apprenticeship under the black flag of Quantrell's raiders. 
Charles William Quantrell was born in Maryland, and he and his older 
brother started for the California goldfields in 1856, when Charles was 
about 20 years old. Soon after entering Kansas Territory they were 
attacked by a band of robbers who called themselves Free-Soilers, and 
the elder brother was killed. Up to this time nothing is known of 
Quantrell's politics, but from that day forward he became a fanatical 
pro-slavery man. He gave up all idea of going to California, and threw 
himself with frenzied zeal into making war on the anti-slavery people 
in Kansas. 

Kansas was the scene of a bitter conflict between pro-slavery and 
anti-slavery forces at the time, the former anxious to" gain th© state 
for slavery, the latter for freedom^ Each party sent bands of armed 
immigrants into the territory, and something like a civil war ensued- 



Bodies of pro-slavery men crossed Over from Missouri, took possession 
of the polls, and controlled the elections. Settlements were attacked 
and looted, houses and buildings burned, men and women murdered 
in cold blood. The band of outlaws led by Charles Quantrell was always 
in the forefront of this bloody business. 

Quantrell's raiders were mostly Missourians, superb horsemen, good 
shots with rifle and revolver, the latter being their favorite weapon. 
It was Quantrell and his gang who sacked the town of Lawrence, killing 
most of the male inhabitants, burning many buildings, and carrying 
off a great deal of plunder; Both Frank and Jesse James were present 
at the Lawrence raid, and it was, said th£t these two brothers killed 
65 men and boys that day, and wounded perhaps 25 more. This may be 
an exaggeration, but the truth is bad enough. At least one of the 
Younger boys was at Lawrence too, but we have no tally of his killing 
on that occasion. 

Frank and Jesse James were the sons of a Baptist preacher who 
had come to Missouri from Kentucky. The Younger brothers— Cole, 
Jim and Bob— were the sons of a wealthy Missouri judge. The two 
families were somehow related, and some say that the James and 
Younger boys were first cousins. Both families had suffered severely 
at the hands of the Yankees. Jesse James' mother had an arm blown 
off, and one of her young children shot to death; Cole Younger's father 
was murdered, his home burned, and three of Cole's sisters locked up 
in a rickety barracks which blew down and killed two of them. It is 
no wonder that the James and Younger boys were bitter against the 
Federals. They rode with Quantrell's outlaw troops all through the 
Civil War. Quantrell was killed in 1865, and the Confederate army sur- 
rendered in the same year. But the James and Younger boys did not 
surrender, saying that they did not believe the War was over! 

In 1866 the James and Younger brothers had organized a small band 
of robbers, with headquarters in Clay County, Missouri. This region was 
pretty wild in those days, but the James-Younger outlaws knew every 
foot of it. Many of the settlers were related to them by blood or mar- 
riage, as well as by political sympathies, and were glad to protect the 
outlaws whenever possible. For more than twenty years the James- 
Younger gang fooled or bribed the officers of the Middle West, and 
robbed banks from Minnesota to Mexico. They robbed trains, too, and 
were not above sticking up stage-coaches on occasion. Their loot 
totaled more than half a million dollars in cash, which was a tremendous 
sum of money in those days. 

The James-Younger outlaws had been reared in a very hard school, 
and did not hesitate to kill innocent people. Jesse James in particular 
was inclined to shoot anybody who happened to come along while a 
robbery was in progress. Finally Governor Crittenden of Missouri 
arranged with several railroads and express companies to offer large 
rewards for each of the robbers, dead or alive. It is said that $30 000 
was the price set upon the head of Jesse James, who was regarded as 
the leader of the band. 

It was in 1882 that Robert Ford, cousin to the James boys, decided 
to kill Jesse in order to get the reward. Ford was only 19 years old, and 
he imagined that the man who killed the famous outlaw would become 
a sort of national hero. Jesse James was living in St. Joseph, Mo., under 
the name of Thomas Howard. Bob Ford and his brother Charles were 
in the house with Jesse one day, and Jesse had laid aside his pistols. 
It is said that Jesse was standing upon a chair, to straighten a picture 
hanging on the wall, when Cousin Bob shot, him in the back of the head. 
Ford never got much of the reward money, and what he did get was 
soon frittered away. He was killed in a drunken fight somewhere in 
Colorado, about ten years later. . 

Frank James surrendered to Governor Crittenden at Jefferson City, 
a few months after Jesse's death. They sentenced him to life imprison- 
ment, but a few years of prison life ruined his health. He seemed to b© 


dying of tuberculosis, and some governor pardoned him. Frank James 
lived for many years after his release, and served for a long time as 
doorkeeper in a St. Louis theatre. He was often seen about race-tracks, 
in the company of professional gamblers and horse-players. But, he 
seemed to have lost all interest in robbery and the like, and there is 
no evidence that he ever made a crooked move after his release from 
prison. . 

The James- Younger gang robbed scores of banks— nobody now 
living can say just how many— but the most sensational job they ever 
did was the robbery at Northfield, Minn., in 1876. This expedition was 
undertaken by Frank and Jesse James, Jim and Bob Younger, Clel 
Miller, Charley Pitts and Bill Stiles. Cole Younger at first refused to 
have any part in the Northfield robbery, predicting that the project 
would end in disaster, but at the last moment he decided to string ■ 
along with his brothers. 

They all rode into Northfield on the morning of September 7, 1876, 
well mounted and well armed. As usual the outlaws began by clearing 
the streets, firing at the heels of the fleeing citizens. Jesse James, Bob 
Younger and Charlie Pitts dismounted and strode into the bank, shoot- 
ing a young clerk through the shoulder as they entered. Cashier J. L. 
Haywood refused to open the safe, and Pitts stabbed him twice, but in 
such a way that he was not seriously hurt. The firing outside became 
so heavy that they decided to withdraw without attempting to force 
the safe. Gathering up what loose money was available, they started 
to leave the bank. As they went out, Jesse turned and shot Cashier 
Haywood through the head, killing him. The three ran down the steps 
of the bank, but some doctor fired from his office window with a rifle, 
and killed Bill Stiles. A moment later another citizen mortally wounded 
Clel Miller. The rest of the outlaws rode out of town, firing as they 
went When they stopped for a moment, a mile or so down the road, 
it was discovered that every man had one or more bullets in him. * 
What was left of the James-Younger gang worked South as best 
thev could, pursued by large posses everywhere. The State of Minnesota 
offered a $1000 reward for each bandit, dead or alive. They wrangled 
bitterly among themselves, each blaming the others for his failure, with 
Cole Younger reminding everybody that he had been against the plan 
from the start. About a week after the robbery, Frank and Jesse James 
left the others and struck out for themselves. They were both seriously 
wounded, and had only one horse between them. But somehow they 
got as far as Sioux Falls, Iowa, where they captured a doctor and forced 
him to treat their wounds. They stole horses, bribed officers and 
hired teamsters, and finally got back to Missouri where they were 
comparatively safe. They figured it was better not to stay there, how- 
ever, so they drifted on down to Mexico and holed up south ot the 
Border for several months. "■',■'— j ^ * 

Charlie Pitts stuck with Cole, Jim and Bob Younger, and the four 
managed to elude their pursuers for another week of agony. Finally 
they were surrounded in a little patch of timber on the Watonwan 
' River There were more than 150 armed men in the posse, and it is said 
that 1000 shots were fired. A sheriff named Glispin shot and killed 
Pitts early in the fight. Cole Younger had a bullet in his thigh, where 
he had been shot two weeks before in Northfield; now he got twelve 
more bullets in various parts of his body, and one rifle-ball m the head, 
so it appeared that hC would surely die. Jim Younger's lower jaw was 
shot away, and he had eight buckshot in his body, besides a 50-cahber 
rifle bullet in his shoulder. Bob Younger was the only one who could 
stand up, but his right arm was broken, and there was a revolver bullet 
in Ills sicLo 

Several members of the posse were in favor of killing all three of 
the Youngers at once, but Sheriff Glispen insisted on taking them to 
the county jail. All pleaded guilty to murder in the first degree, and 
were sentenced to life imprisonment. Bob Younger died m prison, in 


188&, Col© and Jim wert paroled in 1901, but Jim committed suicide a 
few weeks after he was freed. Col© recovered his health and traveled 
about the country with a Wild West Show— I saw him in Joplin, Mo., 
about 1904. Cole became very religious in his old age, and made a great 
show of attending church and Sunday-school. He was a benevolent- 
looking old fellow, and the children in the streets used to call him 
Uncle Cole." He died in his bed at Lees Summit, Mo., in 1916. So ended 
the notorious Younger boys, and everybody said it was a good riddance. 


The Dalton family lived south of Coffeyville, Kansas, just across 
the Oklahoma border. Oklahoma was the Indian Territory in those 
days, and was probably the wildest bit of country in the United States 
at that time. The whole region was full of bad Indians and worse 
whites, and became the natural haven of criminals who had fled the 
law in other sections of the West. When a gun-fighter became too tough 
for Texas, or Kansas, or Colorado, or New Mexico, there was nothing 
for it but to take refuge in the Territory. i 

Lewis Dalton was born in Kentucky, but had moved to Missouri in 
the early days, where he had made some contact with the James and 
Younger families. In 1851 he married Adelaide Younger and moved into 
the Territory. He and Adelaide raised a big family— nine sons and four 
daughters. One of the boys was named Coleman, always a common 
name in the Younger clan. Cole Dalton and several of his brothers were 
quiet, respectable citizens, and more than one of them became peace 
officers. Franklin Dalton was a Deputy United States Marshal, killed 
by a horse-thief near Port Smith, Ark., in 1887. Grattan and Robert 
Dalton also served as Deputy Marshals for a time, and fought despera- 
does and cattle-thieves all over the Territory. 

Many of the United States Marshals were a little wild sometimes, 
and this was overlooked by their superiors, but when Grat and Bob 
Dalton took to stealing whole herds of horses and cattle the authorities 
were forced to take action. Both boys lost their commissions, and Grat 
was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment, but he broke out of jail 
before they could get him to the penitentiary. Bob and Grat, together 
with their younger brother Emmett, now fled into the wilds of the 
Territory, and definitely "went over to the wild bunch." They no longer 
made any pretense of working for their bread, but devoted themselves 
mostly to train-robbery. 

Their procedure was very much like that of the James- Younger 
gang in Missouri. In May, 1891, they stopped the Santa Fe at Wharton, 
and looted the express car. They killed the station-agent at Wharton, 
and lost one of their men, a tough gunman named Bryant. Early in 
1892 they robbed another Santa Fe train in the Cherokee Strip, and a 
Frisco passenger-train near Vinita. A little later they stuck up the 
Katy at Adair, I. T., where they killed one man and wounded several 
others, escaping with a lot of cash from the express car. By this time 
the Dalton gang was notorious, all trains carried armed guards, and 
heavy rewards were posted by the railroads and express companies. 
The Daltons decided to quit train-robbing for awhile, but robbed several 
small banks just to keep in practice. They took $10,000 from a little 
bank at El Reno without firing a shot. 

It was shortly after the El Reno episode that Bob Dalton conceived 
the great idea that led to the downfall of the Dalton gang. There were 
two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas, and Bob decided to rob both of these 
banks simultaneously. This was something new in the history of bank- 
robbmg. Even the James-Younger boys had never tried to knock off 
two banks in the same town at the same time. 

„ ^ The , P ornin g of Oct. 5, 1892, found the Dalton gang in camp near 
Coffeyville, on the bank of Onion Creek. Besides Bob, Grat and Emmett 



Dalton, there were two other men present, who called themselves Dick 
Broadwell and Bill Powers. Shortly after nine o'clock they rode quietly 
into the town. All of them carried rifles and revolvers, but this attracted 
no attention in a town like Coffeyville. Ordinarily they would have left 
their horses in front of the banks, but the main street was being paved 
so they had to tie their mounts in an alley about a block away. It was 
said later that the torn -up condition of the' street probably sealed 
the doom of the Dalton gang. 

Emmett and Bob Dalton strode briskly into the First National Bank 
There were three bank employes inside, and four customers. Bob ordered 
Tom Ayres, the cashier, to bring money out of the vault and put it into 
a sack. Ayers brought out $10,000 in bills, and a good deal of silver. Then 
Bob and Emmett told the customers to walk out at the front door 
which they did. As Bob and Emmett started to follow them however' 
several shots were fired by citizens in the street. When this happened 
the two robbers stepped back into the bank, and prepared to leave by 
another door at the rear of the building. 

Meanwhile, at the Condon Bank across the street, things were not 
going so well. . When Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell and Bill Powers de- 
manded the money, Cashier Ball produced only about $4000, most of it 
in silver. Grat began shouting for more, but Ball said that the safe 
which contained the gold was fitted with a time-lock, and could not 
be opened for ten minutes. Grat suspected that this was a lie, but he 
knew nothing about time-locks, and decided to take a chance. Without 
a word he sat down, his cocked rifle pointed at Ball, to wait the required 
ten minutes. Long before the time was up the citizens outside began 
firing into the bank, breaking all the windows and pinking Broadwell 
in the left arm. Grat saw that it was no use, so he led Broadwell and 
Powers out of the bank by a side door. 

The three came out into the street just as Bob and Emmett emerged 
from the other bank. All sorts of- people, by this time, were milling 
about with firearms in their hands. Some of these amateur gun- 
fighters were firing almost at random, endangering each other as 
well as the bank-robbers. A man named Gump stood in the street 
with a shotgun, and was shot down at once, presumably by Bob Dalton 
An instant later Bob shot and killed young Lucius Baldwin, who was 
flourishing a pistol in the alley. Charles Brown and George Cubine,were 
killed also, either by Bob or Emmett. Cashier Ayers rushed out with a 
Winchester, and was shot through, the head by Bob Dalton at a distance 
of seventy-fire yards. T. A. Reynolds was shot by one of the Daltons 
but was not seriously hurt. By this time* Grat Dalton and Bill Powers 
were both mortally wounded, but continued firing, and Grat killed City 
Marshal Connoly. Dick Broadwell was riddled with bullets, but mounted 
his horse and rode several blocks before he fell dead. Bob Dalton 
wounded several times, was finally shot to death by a livery-stable 
employe named Kloehr. 

Emmett Dalton had been in the thick of all this shooting but 
somehow got to his horse without being hit. He still carried a sack of 
money, too. Just as he sprang into the saddle two bullets struck him. 
Despite these wounds he rode back through very heavy fire to the 
place where Bob lay in the street, and tried to help his fallen brother 
up on the horse behind him. Bob knew that he was dying, and said so 
profanely urging Emmett to get the hell out while he could. Just then 
one Carey Seaman ran up and emptied a shotgun into Emmett's back 
Emmett fell from his horse, and raised one arm in token of surrender 
Several men fired at him with pistols as he lay on the ground, but 
missed. Everybody thought that he was mortally wounded anyhow 
and pretty soon some bystanders carried him into a doctor's office and 
laid him on the floor. 

When the smoke cleared away, eight men lay dead— four bank- 
robbers and four citizens. Four men were desperately wounded— one 



by horses, cat by falling glass, ana lso nan. t £ damage except 

11 ArPflT«5dSto Coffeyville today who can give, you eye- 

Rotarians. . ■ „ un _ figW: m' outlaw really ended with the